Yes, your Curmudgeon is in one of those moods again.
There are days when I strain to produce a Grand Unified Theory of Irritations. It’s among my fondest desires to pull together all the seemingly disconnected threads of bother and nuisance, weave them into a coherent tapestry, then set it alight and bask in the warmth as it burns. I know, I know: the thing is impossible. But I can dream.
Politics and politicians, as I’m sure you’d already suspected, would be on the list. There is absolutely nothing good about our contemporary political class and its machinations. Even the supposedly good guys – the Matt Gaetzes, the Rand Pauls, the Lauren Boeberts and Marjorie Taylor Greenes – are only good by contrast. They still occupy positions of power, and I am thoroughly sick of those who pursue power, regardless of their motives. They tend to annoy me.
In Robert A. Heinlein’s novel Friday, he depicted America’s Balkanization into a number of independent republics and satrapies. His protagonist wandered and maneuvered among them for XXX pages, occasionally committing a homicide or two, occasionally having sex with some Supporting Cast character, and finally emigrating to a colony world. Heinlein’s trademarked “older and wiser” character Hartley M. “Kettle Belly” Baldwin deplored that Balkanization as a retreat from the “Renaissance Civilization” he loved and admired.
Contrast this with Poul Anderson’s stirring concluding statement in his award-winning novella “No Truce With Kings:”
“You wanted to re-establish the centralized state, didn’t you? Did you ever stop to think that maybe feudalism is what suits Man? Some one place to call our own, and belong to, and be part of; a community with traditions and honor; a chance for the individual to make decisions that count; a bulwark for liberty against the central overlords, who’ll always want more and more power; a thousand different ways to live. We’ve always built supercountries, here on Earth, and we’ve always knocked them apart again. I think maybe the whole idea is wrong. And maybe this time we’ll try something better. Why not a world of little states, too well rooted to dissolve in a nation, too small to do much harm—slowly rising above petty jealousies and spite, but keeping their identities—a thousand separate approaches to our problems. Maybe then we can solve a few of them…for ourselves!”
Finally, here’s a third assessment, from Tom Kratman’s terrific military-adventure novel Countdown: H Hour:
“Do you know why we band together into nations, girl?”
The question seemed so totally out of the blue that Maricel didn’t really even comprehend it. She shook her head, a gesture that meant, in this case, I don’t understand.
Aida took it wrongly, assuming the girl meant she didn’t know why. She answered the question herself. Pointing towards the flames, she said, “We band into nations for just that reason. In the real world, little tribes like TCS are destroyed. They can’t compete against determined bands of raiders. It takes more power than that to defend yourself against people like yourself, people with no law above themselves.”
Ah, now Maricel understood the question. She wasn’t sure she understood the answer and, given that she was going to die, the answer didn’t really matter anyway.
“It’s the flaw in some utopian schemes,” the woman continued. She looked at Maricel’s uncomprehending face and said, “You don’t understand that word, do you?”
“No.” Sniffle. Just get on with it, will you?
“Never mind; here’s the truth, a truth I’ve been trying to find for the last . . . well, for the last good long while. People band into nations, real nations—not travesties like TCS, gangs that fancy themselves nations—to defend themselves. It requires an emotional commitment. The limits of nations are not how far their borders can reach, but how far their hearts can. People with tiny hearts, people like TCS, can never reach very far, can never gather enough similar hearts together to defend themselves. Only real people, and real countries or causes, can do that. That’s why TCS is going to die tonight.”
So: three titans of speculative fiction, three assessments of what a nation should be. Each approach confers certain potentials, is equipped with certain advantages, and comes with certain hazards. We could argue about which one would rise highest, which one would last longest, and which one would be most favorable to individual freedom…but I prefer an idiosyncratic metric:
Perhaps we should go in the other direction: toward individual aspects of nuisance that can be identified and fought on the micro level. Everyone has a few he’s particularly un-fond of. Just now, at the top of my list is a huge (150 lb.) Newfoundland puppy named Joy who sheds continuously and frequently demands that I put one or both of my hands in her mouth. Unfortunately, she’s too cute to remain annoyed with for very long.
But slightly above the level of Joy we have the great American Panoply of Victims. Great God in heaven, how I despise people who seek attention, fortune, and privileges by claiming to be victims of this or that. Yet these days they seem to be everywhere.
Women: “victims” of a bio-social arrangement that has led to them being protected, cared for, even pampered by the male half of Mankind. (Shut up about the word Mankind, bitch; you can use whatever words you prefer at your next hen party.) Meanwhile, men do all the dirty, unpleasant, and life-threatening jobs while you whine about being “oppressed” by the “patriarchy.”
Negroes: “victims” of a society that has bent itself into a pretzel – not one of those Philadelphia-style straight pretzel sticks; the twisty ones – striving to improve the economic, political, and social conditions of the melanin-oversupplied. “Structural racism,” you say? Damned right – structured in your favor, DeShawn and LaShondra. You’ve tested our patience to the limit. Go just a little further, why dontcha?
Homosexuals: “victims” of a society that has awarded them above-average incomes, high places in the arts and entertainment fields, and innumerable perches from which to claim – simultaneously! – that “we’re born that way” and “we’re proud to be ‘gay.’” All the while evangelizing to young boys that “you’ve got to try it before saying you don’t like it.” One more “Gay Pride” parade that features nudity and public sex acts, and I might just unpack the Barrett M82 and the emergency package of Oreo Double-Stufs®. There’s this really nice clock tower I’ve been meaning to climb…
Muslims: Viktor Orban, where are you when we need you?
I could go on. Be grateful that I’ve stopped here.
Lately it seems that everyone is demanding “respect.” “Respect our orientation!” scream the legions of homosexuals demanding access to the “public” schools and free treatment for everything from anal incontinence to AIDS. “Respect women!” screech the feminist harridans who persist in demanding access to every occupation, but with lowered standards of performance and special privileges so they won’t feel “uncomfortable.” (I shan’t bother with their insistence that “society” should “teach men not to rape.” Every man knows how not to rape. It’s doing it properly, such that your victim sends you flowers the next day, that takes instruction and practice.) “Respect our faith!” chant the hordes of Muslims teaching their children to hate Jews, Christians, freedom, and America, and making endless excuses for their radicals and terrorists.
Yo, assholes: Respect is earned. It’s awarded for demonstrated character and competence. Demanding respect virtually screams that you can’t earn it or aren’t willing to put out the effort. And by the way, such demands also ensure that you won’t get it…perhaps not even the pretense of it.
Of course, there’s always the recourse to the Omnipotent State. “Respect mah authoritah!” scream the politicians, appointees, and bureaucrats. However, that “respect” is evaporating pretty damned quickly. Remember that you read it here first.
A final turbid thought. It’s one that’s been bruited around for many decades, even centuries. It’s simple, carries enormous implications, and has the potential to transform individuals and societies completely. Yet it is among the least respected of all sturdy wisdoms, for an equally simple reason: it’s about responsibility.
Contrast this with the commonly heard (and very juvenile) complaint that “It’s not fair!” When do we hear such complaints? When someone has failed to get what he wants. But how often is it that the thing he wants is his by right? And how often could he have improved his chance of getting it by making other choices?
As a grace note, I highly recommend Philip S. Power’s delightfully imaginative novel Damsel: No More. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll fall down. It will change your life. Really!